Enjoying a unique instrument for this music man and his passion
It's a replica of a Bosendorfer Vienna Concert Grand — one that long-time Portland concert Pianist Michael Allen Harrison, who now operates the wedding chapel as a concert venue and recording studio, says there are only three of these pianos in the world — and at this point in his 58 years on earth, going on 31 as a professional musician and concert pianist, it's Harrisons's pride and joy, and rightfully so.
Harrison sits down at the keyboard and begins to rip through familiar-sounding, small parts, otherwise known as chord progressions and riffs, or hooks, of famous classical songs. And the piano's sound reverberates throughout the chapel, sounding like no other grand piano to this reporter, who incidentally is a long-standing musician in his own right.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Harrison says matter-of-factly.
"The great thing about music is everyone is born with it and understands it from inside their mother's womb. Not everyone knows how to express that, so you have to train the ears, eyes, fingers and mind to work together."
Harrison said when he was a child he was very shy and his parents asked him to try being and getting involved in music and offered to pay for lessons from a next-door neighbor, believing it would be good to help bring him outside his shell.
When he reached the age of seven, Harrison learned how to tickle the 88 keys of the instrument and improved quickly, become "pretty advanced, pretty fast."
"They had a real knack for it and moved me on to one of the best piano-music teachers in the U.S.," he said. "She took me under her wing and it came easy for me. I think I really started to get more into it as I became and older teenager around 15 or 16 years old, and because of the recognition I was starting to receive it really built my confidence."
Harrison said he's been writing original compositions since he was about 16 years old, but has not written all of them down over the years — a fact that plagues many song writers who feel as if he or she has lost many gems, or hit songs, throughout the years by not being able to record them at the time when inspiration hits, often losing them to memory.
Since, then, Harrison said he's composed everything from pop to rock songs, jazz tunes, classical music and most recently at the Pioneer Chapel, also known to many as the Canby Wedding Chapel and Concert Hall, where he operates a full recording studio, as well as an intimate, live music performance hall, he's been working on scoring films — the Independent Movie Data Base (IMDB.com) lists Harrison's past contributions as a film composer to a 2006 TV documentary called "The Three Rabbis; Anoosh and the Airways in 1999, The Mortified Man in 1996 and Claire of the Moon in 1992.
When asked to tally how many original compositions he's completed in his lifetimes, Harrison thought about it long and hard before finally answering with a number that grabs the attention.
Having asked that, it should be noted that various websites say Harrison recorded about 50 albums that are completed, published and for sale during his 31 active years as a professional musician, he said.
"I'm going to guess I've written — not all of them finished yet — somewhere between 2,500 and 5,000 songs over my lifetime," he said. "The more you know about the language (in this case, of music) the easier it is for you to express your feelings."
Harrison was asked if he improvises on a regular basis, and said that once he and his fellow musicians know the chords — when he's playing the melody he tends to stick to triads (any three-chord combination) and he and they can begin vamping, or improvising, using little variations of those chords by changing chord inversions and improvising, but mostly within the original framework of the song. One of the bet things I ever did was learn to playing walking bass lines with my left hand, so know I have a lot more choices."
He said even those who don't know how to read music still can learn to play the piano, or any instrument for that matter.
"Your template of understanding and collection of judgement of yourself, you have to put your hands on the keyboard and learn that first triad, and then a second, all the way up the scale, and you listen for something familiar," he said. "What happens is your influence and understanding increase and over time, and all of a sudden what happens is this activity opens the power to expand your mind, but more importantly your perspective.
"It's really important to have kids involved in art in their overall education," he added. "Music really hones their critical thinking and ability to think on their feet in a group setting, and alone."
Harrison acknowledges that in today's internet age, seeing an accomplished musician move into a mid-sized town outside of Portland proper for a long-term residency is uncommon an occurrence. But, he said, venues like the Canby Pioneer Chapel give people a chance to hear and see live music in Canby, not exactly known as a hotbed for musical performances — although there are a few concert series in town annually — a town he feels a special kinship with because the people are so warm and inviting and positive when attending his live performances.
Speaking of which, Harrison has many live shows planned in the months ahead. The Canby Pioneer Chapel hosts he and violinist Aaron Meyer on March 12 and 26 at 2p.m. in the Canby Pioneer Chapel, April 7 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m., respectively, two performances on Mother's Day May 14 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., June 4 at 2 p.m. and Father's Day June 18 at 2 p.m.
On March 39, Harrison performs at "Crossing Over," a concert billed as "Beneath the Done Congregation Beth Israel" at 172 NW Flanders Street in Portland.
Finally, Harrison once will again host and perform as part of the 2017 Ten Grands concert on April 15 at 7 p.m.
Tickets for all events are available by contacting Harrison at 503-412-9339 or by visiting him online at www.michaelallenharrison.com.